By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — About 10,000 people have taken to the streets of the Macedonian capital to protest a possible change to the name of the former Yugoslav republic to comply with a demand by neighboring Greece.
The flag-waving demonstrators on March 4 gathered around a statue of Alexander the Great, the famed ruler of the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia, on Skopje’s main square, chanting “We are Macedonians.”
“We are not protesting, we are just defending our name. We are against changing the name, that’s all. No one gave it to us, no one created it. That name is eternally Macedonian and should remain as it is,” one demonstrator told RFE/RL.
“We will never give our name away to anyone. There is one Macedonia and it will remain Macedonia forever,” said another protester. “Macedonia is a great name, we carry it in our hearts, we love Macedonia, we are Macedonians, we love Macedonia, we won’t give it up.”
The rally was organized by the movement Our Name Is Our Right, as Skopje and Athens recently stepped up efforts to resolve a 27-year-old dispute over Macedonia’s name.
The row has hampered Macedonia’s efforts to join NATO and the EU. Greece is a member of both entities.
Greece objects to the former Yugoslav republic’s use of the name Macedonia, which Athens says could imply territorial claims over its own northern region of the same name.
Negotiations between the two neighbors have been inconclusive since 1991, when Macedonia gained independence from the former Yugoslavia.
Macedonia has now said it is ready to add a geographical qualifier to its name to help resolve the dispute. An agreement could include Macedonia adding “Upper,” “New,” or “North” to its name.
The protesters in Skopje urged the government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev to halt talks with Greece over the issue and demanded that the United Nations recognize the country under its constitutional name, Macedonia.
They also accused the Macedonian government of betraying the country’s national interest.
Parallel rallies were staged by Macedonians in other cities around the world, including Washington and Sydney, Australia.
Many Greeks also object to any use of the word Macedonia in their neighbor’s official name. A rally in Athens drew tens of thousands of people on February 4.